Study Guide

East of Eden Chapter 23

By John Steinbeck

Chapter 23


  • Let's talk about Una, Samuel's oldest and favorite daughter who married a humorless man who took her up north somewhere.
  • Una dies and it eats Samuel up; age finally catches up with him.
  • All of Samuel's other children are doing well except for Tom. Tom takes after Samuel except that he isn't as good-looking, and he is darker.
  • Also he doesn't have any sense of competition, unlike his brothers.
  • Now the narrator talks about his own childhood memories of Tom. Little John's sister Mary didn't like the fact that she was a girl, so the kids decide to ask Uncle Tom about how they could change her into a boy. Tom tries to tell Mary that she should be glad to be a girl, but this just makes Tom lose esteem in Mary's eyes.
  • Tom has some issues. Unlike his father, who never gets too weighed down with things, Tom is often troubled; he has low self-esteem and he secretly writes poetry.
  • But Dessie is Tom's favorite. Dessie is the sister who owns a dress shop in Salinas, and it's basically where all the women like to hang out because Dessie is so fun.
  • But then Dessie has a tragic love affair that everyone refuses to talk about, and some incident occurs that results in Tom getting locked up by the sheriff for the night.


  • On Thanksgiving in 1911, all the Hamilton children and their spouses and their children gather at the Hamilton home. After Samuel and Liza go to bed their kids all sit up and talk about what should be done about their aging parents—they are shocked at how much older they have gotten.
  • At first everyone's impulse is to blame Tom for not looking out for them, but then they get over it and decide that Liza and Samuel need to come stay with their kids.
  • The only problem is bringing it up with their parents.


  • First Olive sends a letter asking Samuel and Liza to come stay with her; Tom watches as Samuel reads it and waits for his reaction.
  • Samuel goes outside and looks at the sky, and when he comes back he comments that Tom is a grown man.
  • Then Samuel goes and talks to Liza. He asks her if she knows what a vacation is.
  • Olive has bought their train tickets and everything, and Liza runs out of excuses not to go, so they agree to depart.
  • Back outside with Tom, Samuel casually mentions that he and Liza are going to take a trip, but he can hear the lie in Tom's voice and knows that he and the siblings have planned it together.
  • Samuel tells Tom that he knows the real reason the siblings have planned the trip, and he is fine with it.